A worker harvests oysters from the Nisbet family's Goose Point Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay. After ocean acidification started killing billions of baby oysters along Washington's coast, both in the wild and in hatcheries where the Nisbets bought their oyster seed, the family took a radical step. They opened a hatchery in Hawaii. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

By Craig Welch
12 September 2013

HILO, Hawaii (Seattle Times) – It appears at the end of a palm tree-lined drive, not far from piles of hardened black lava: the newest addition to the Northwest’s famed oyster industry.

Half an ocean from Seattle, on a green patch of island below a tropical volcano, a Washington state oyster family built a 20,000-square-foot shellfish hatchery.

Ocean acidification left the Nisbet family no choice.

Carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel emissions had turned seawater in Willapa Bay along Washington’s coast so lethal that slippery young Pacific oysters stopped growing. The same corrosive ocean water got sucked into an Oregon hatchery and routinely killed larvae the family bought as oyster seed.

So the Nisbets became the closest thing the world has seen to ocean-acidification refugees. They took out loans and spent $1 million and moved half their production 3,000 miles away.

“I was afraid for everything we’d built,” Goose Point Oyster Co. founder Dave Nisbet said of the hatchery, which opened last year. “We had to do something. We had to figure this thing out, or we’d be out of business.”

Oysters started dying by the billions along the Northwest coast in 2005, and have been struggling ever since. When scientists cautiously linked the deaths to plummeting ocean pH in 2008 and 2009, few outside the West Coast’s $110 million industry believed it.

By the time scientists confirmed it early last year, the region’s several hundred oyster growers had become a global harbinger — the first tangible sign anywhere in the world that ocean acidification already was walloping marine life and hurting people.

Worried oystermen testified before Congress. A few hit the road to speak at science conferences. Journalists visited the tidelands from Australia, Europe and Korea. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire established a task force of ocean acidification experts, who sought ways to fight this global problem locally.

But the eight years of turmoil the Nisbet family endured trying to outrun their corroding tides offered them a unique perch from which to view debate over CO2 emissions.

And the world’s earliest victims of shifting ocean chemistry fear humanity still doesn’t get it.

“I don’t care if you think it’s the fault of humans or not,” Nisbet said. “If you want to keep your head in the sand, that’s up to you. But the rest of us need to get it together because we’re not out of the woods yet on this thing.” [more]

SEA CHANGE: Oysters hit hard


  1. Anonymous said...

    I VERY much care who's "fault" it is.

    Denial and disbelief are CAUSING the poor-decision making by government and industry. Therefore, it is these fucking fools who are GUILTY of genocide, ecocide and environmental destruction on a GLOBAL scale.

    They're not alone - but they are hindering the process big time. So yeah, I care, very much what people "think". Wrong-headed thinking is at the root of all this evil taking place.  


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